BOSN talks to... Holly Millward

Please tell us about your role at CSM.

I’m the Managing Director of CSM in the region, so I’m responsible for all of the agency’s work in this part of the world. We’re a sports and entertainment marketing business and broadly work across three key areas – brand consultancy, rights sales and live experiences. Our regional headquarters are here in Hong Kong, but we have people and offices in Singapore and Tokyo as well. We use those hubs to service our clients and partnerships across the region.

You play an important role in sports sponsorships. What do you think your clients are looking for in return of sponsoring an event?

Fundamentally, investments should serve a business purpose. Depending on who the client is, those business and brand objectives will be very different. One of my favourite stages of client work is simply listening to their current challenges over a coffee, what’s keeping them awake at night. We then look at what role a potential partnership investment might play in addressing these challenges. Ultimately, these platforms allow brands to talk to their target audiences in a different sort of way, through their passion points. That might be football, could be rugby or might be food, health and wellbeing. A key part of our work is setting benchmarks across business objectives and then scrutinising the return on investment at the end of the event or partnership cycle. We’re always evolving the solution with our clients and never stand still in that sense.

It will be a very busy 2 years for sports in Asia with the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup happening. Can you tell us how you are involved in the mega sports events in Asia now?

It is such an exciting time to be in the region and a window of immense opportunity. We are now less than 50 days from the start of the Rugby World Cup and I truly believe that Japan will put on a fantastic show. We’re working for a number of the tournament’s global partners, including Jaguar Land Rover and Tudor to amplify their partnerships and are also creating a number of bespoke client experiences on the ground for local and team partners. As a business, we are fully committed to the opportunity that Japan presents and now have 30 staff members on the ground in Tokyo. The 2020 Olympics is set to be a very busy period, particularly for our guest experience business, iLUKA, who are already in the planning stages of creating programmes for TOP Olympic partners and local Japanese sponsors. We’re also in the process of opening an office in Beijing ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. So never a dull moment!

How do you make the impact of these one-off mega events sustainable even after the event?

It’s not simple, but if you look at the most successful examples of events that have left a genuine legacy, fundamentally, the communities in which they have taken place have been involved and considered from the start. Working with the community and governing bodies every step of the way, making local stakeholders feel a part of the solution and the future is critical. This was approached effectively around the London 2012 Olympics in the views of many. Ultimately, these events should serve as inspiration to grow sport domestically and amongst young people, to get people moving and participating regularly. Sounds obvious, but I feel like communication is key. What is the ambition of the event and the plan once the circus has rolled out of town? As an example, in Japan, the hope is very much that the events themselves inspire increased participation and that domestic partners are inspired themselves to continue the investment into the future. Closer to home, we absolutely hope the same for Kai Tak.

We are seeing huge capital investment from Asian brands to the international sports scene, how has this changed the sponsorship and general sports marketing landscape?

There is a very clear macro trend in terms of Asian brands investing in sport, but the interest from rights holders is equally excitable. Quite simply, brands are increasingly seeing sport as a fantastic platform to put their business on the global map and equally rights holders see enormous opportunity in the volume, growth and commercial opportunity in the Asian audience. EPL and European football are good examples of where we are witnessing significant investment from Asian brands. We’ve just seen our client AIA renew their deal with Spurs until the end of the 2026/27 season, confirmation that the partnership is driving true business and brand impact within AIA’s key markets in the region. In the same week, smartphone giant OPPO extended its partnership with Barcelona for another three years, marking the longest running partnership between a Chinese brand and a European Football Club. With the ‘oppo’rtunity to reach out to Barca’s 200 million fans globally, you wouldn’t bet against it! This trend is only set to continue and, in my view, the more innovation in audience insight and targeting, the more powerful the opportunity for rights holders and ultimately brand and business growth for partners.

Do you see any new trends in the collaborations between sports and corporates who are looking to sponsor an event?

We talked a little bit about ROI earlier, but having a well-connected, highly engaged fan base is central to brands investing in partnerships, whether sport or otherwise. Engagement that ultimately leads to business growth. Happily, there is a huge trend in both rights holders and brands better capitalising on the data that emerges from partnerships and activation. As a business we have invested significantly in our offering from a digital marketing point of view, with a platform that allows our clients to attribute hard sales to digital activation and exposure. Ultimately, marketing chiefs are looking to tell a story of business growth internally, not just that their clients have had a lovely time. The world has definitely moved on from that and has inspired us all to be better.

You are leading a multicultural team on multinational projects that require frequent travels and working with local partners. Do you find it challenging?

Leading diverse teams in different markets is definitely the happiest part of my job. We are a people business at the end of the day - and I am biased but proud to work with bright, fundamentally good people from all over the world. The travel of course takes its toll by moments, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every day I feel privileged to have the opportunity to see new events in new parts of the world, often throwing myself completely out of my comfort zone, but learning all of the time. Every time we look at a new market, there is something different to navigate, culturally, linguistically and from a business point of view. Oh, and another food item to sample – which for those that know me, is absolutely crucial…

Are there any sports events that you haven’t seen but would like to bring to Asia?

Last month, as a business we took on one of the biggest global projects we’ve ever been involved in, which was bringing the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to London for the first ever regular season MLB game, hosted at the London Olympic Stadium. It was an enormous operation, involving every part of the CSM business in multiple markets. We were so collectively proud to be involved and it was a huge success for all parties. I’d love to see something like that sort of occasion in this region. There is a huge amount we can learn about how the USA delivers sport to the fan. It’s more than sport, it’s entertainment in it’s purest and best form. It’s a commercial machine where everything from the merchandise to the hot dogs plays a key role in the experience. MLB at the new Kai Tak Sports Park… watch this space!